Dry needling is a treatment technique used in physiotherapy that involves the insertion of fine (dry) acupuncture needles. In other words, the needles are not hollow like injection needles.
Dry needling is not the same as acupuncture. In the Western world, acupuncture is regarded as a form of alternative or complementary medicine. It differs from physiotherapy and dry needling in the way that it views and approaches the human body and physical symptoms. In short, acupuncture is more concerned with improving the flow of energy in the body. Symptoms are interpreted within a traditional energetic framework. During an acupuncture treatment, often several needles are inserted and left in place for a while.
Dry needling on the other hand is a mechanical method that uses one needle at a time. The brief insertion of the needle stimulates the muscle and causes it to relax. The needles are inserted into specific areas within a muscle known as trigger points. Trigger points are painful when pressed on. The pain may be local, or the pressure on the point may trigger referred pain elsewhere in the body. Trigger points can inhibit muscle function, reduce muscle strength and restrict movement. These kinds of muscle symptoms are also referred to as ‘myofascial symptoms’.
The purpose of dry needling is to release or deactivate these trigger points. The trigger points are stimulated by precise insertion of a fine needle. The insertion of the needle is barely noticeable. When the right trigger point is stimulated, it causes the muscle to contract briefly. This is known as a ‘twitch response’ and is rarely painful. In most cases the muscle then relaxes and you can move more easily. After the session, the area that has been treated may feel slightly stiff or numb. This sensation can last for up to two days and is quite normal.
Good to know
The range of treatment techniques used in physiotherapy often includes dry needling. It is generally used as a part of a larger treatment plan, rather than as a stand-alone treatment.
To be able to perform dry needling, the physiotherapist has to complete additional training and gain a certificate. This ensures that the physiotherapist knows exactly what they are doing.
Sometimes a condition cannot be treated with dry needling. In this case there are contraindications. Examples of contraindications include coagulation disorders and the first trimester of pregnancy. The physiotherapist will always check if there any contraindications before using the technique.
Dry needling is a safe treatment technique
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